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The species A. afarensis is one of the better known australopithecines, with regards to the number of samples attributed to the species. From speculations about their close relatives, the gorilla and chimpanzee, A. afarensis’ probable social structure can be presumed. The species was named by Johanson and Taieb in 1973. This discovery of a skeleton lead to a heated debate over the validity of the species. The species eventually was accepted by most researchers as a new species of australopithecine and a likely candidate for a human ancestor.
Australopithecus afarensis existed between 3.9 and 3.0 million years ago. The distinctive characteristics of A. afarensis were: a low forehead, a bony ridge over the eyes, a flat nose, no chin, more humanlike teeth, pelvis and leg bones resembled those of modern man. Females were smaller than males. Their sexual dimorphism was males:females; 1.5. A. afarensis was not as sexually dimorphic as gorillas, but more sexually dimorphic than humans or chimpanzees. A lot of scientists think that Australopithecus afarensis was partially adapted to climbing the trees, because the fingers and toe bones of the species were curved and longer than the ones of the modern human.
A. afarensis is classified as an ape, not a human. It is a Hominid, which is an ape closely related to human beings. The first fossils of a skeleton were found at Hadar; a site in northeastern Ethiopia. The team named the skeleton “Lucy” after the Beatles song, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” In terms of overall body size, brain size and skull shape, "Lucy" resembles a chimpanzee. However, A. afarensis has some surprisingly human characteristics. For example, the way the hip joint and pelvis articulate indicates that "Lucy" walked upright like a human, not like a chimp. This means that upright posture and bi-pedalism preceded the development of what we would recognize as human beings and human intelligence.
All non-human primates sleep in the trees at night. So, it would seem to be that A. afarensis slept in trees also. Their skeletal structure agrees with their arboreal lifestyle. “The large premolars of A. afarensis suggests they were frugivores, and the thick enamel on the teeth suggests they may have eaten nuts, grains, or hard fruit pies” (Boyd and Silk, p.
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Because A. afarensis is a close relative of gorillas and chimps, one would assume that they have similar social patterns, such as sexual selection and group behavior, as they do. For example, “female philopatry characterizes most of nonmonogomous, gregarious primate species” (Boyd and Silk, p. 212). A. afarensis probably has these same female-bonded kin groups as primates do. So, A. afarensis, like most primate species, social ties among females would most likely be stronger and more enduring than the bonds among males.
Dispersal and distribution of males and females of A. afarensis would most likely be like that of other primates. The distribution of males is determined by the dispersal of females in the group. One would assume that A. afarensis dispersed like that of gorillas, where the males distributed more than females. This can be assumed because males were more sexually dimorphic than females, so they were stronger to be able to select the mate they choose.
In conclusion, A. afarensis was one of the first homonids to diverge from the species of apes and on toward the evolution of the human species. Because of their intermediate position in their characteristics, A. afarensis can be differentiated as one of the first steps on the human evolutionary ladder from ape to human.
1. Boyd and Silk, How Humans Evolved, W. W. Norton & Co. Inc., 2000, pg. 212, 334.